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Thursday, February 23rd, 2012

Local snack plant hit with safety violations

By Shelley Grieshop
COLDWATER - A local snack food company faces $112,000 in fines for multiple safety violations after a worker was injured at the plant in late August.
The accident at Basic Grain Products in Coldwater involved an employee who became caught in a conveyor belt. The incident led to an investigation in September by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which cited the company on Feb. 15 for 13 safety violations.
According to OSHA, the injured employee suffered sprains, multiple lacerations and contusions because specific equipment was not properly locked out prior to maintenance and cleaning.
"Failing to develop and implement procedures to control hazardous energy by locking out equipment prior to cleaning operations exposes workers to amputation and caught-by hazards, and demonstrates this employer's lack of regard for workers," said Kim Nelson, OSHA's area director in Toledo. "OSHA is committed to protecting workers on the job, especially when employers fail to do so."
Dana Nash, a spokeswoman for Basic Grain, responded briefly to a request for comment by noting the company is "currently working with OSHA to resolve this matter."
Two of the 13 violations were deemed "willful" with penalties totaling $70,000. OSHA describes a willful violation as committed with "intentional, knowing or voluntary disregard for the law's requirement or plain indifference to employee safety and health."
The willful violations accuse the Canadian company of failing to develop and ensure machine-specific energy control procedures.
Basic Grain was fined $38,000 for seven "serious" safety violations involving proper guarding around floor holes and failure to provide personal protective equipment, necessary training and certification for workplace hazard assessments.
A serious violation exists when there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard the employer knew or should have known, OSHA stated.
Four minor violations also were issued that carry an additional $4,000 in penalties for failing to properly complete an injury and illness log from 2008 through 2011.
Basic Grain Products has 15 business days from receipt of its citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA's area director or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.
  Excluding last fall's investigation, OSHA inspected Basic Grain five times since 2001 resulting in 12 serious violations related to electrical safety, machine guarding and a lack of hazard communication. The company paid $900 in 2004 and $3,850 in 2007 in negotiated fines, records show.
Fines issued by OSHA are often reduced during informal or appeal hearings.
Labor issues also have troubled the local manufacturer in recent years. Last year, Basic Grain agreed to pay more than $81,000 in employee backpay in a settlement with the National Labor Relations Board. The company was initially charged with 21 violations for obstructing workers' attempts to unionize.
Three of the 21 charges were withdrawn and six others were dismissed prior to a mutual agreement between the labor board and the company.
In July, employees voted not to join the Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco Workers & Grain Millers union. A re-vote ordered in August by the NLRB resulted in the same outcome.
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